Most reference checks aren’t helpful – is this really a surprise?


A new survey shows what many have long suspected; no one, from recruiters, to referees, to employees think that over-the-phone reference checks work.

Checking references over the phone is fraught with risk and often provides little information from which a manager can make a hiring decision, according to research commissioned by ASX listed recruitment data company Xref.

This may not come as a surprise to many HR professionals; most already feel the process is outdated and puts an outsize onus on job-seekers to behave honestly.

In the 2017 Xref Recruitment Risk Index, the company surveyed those who do references as part of their job: HR professionals and recruiters.

What they found is that the bulk of recruitment managers – 39 per cent to be exact – believe that reference checking in its current format is a formality which serves little purpose.

17 per cent also named the reference checking process as the most frustrating element of the hiring process.

Reference checks: a burden on referees, a burden on recruiters – and, annoying for candidates

Not only is checking references over the phone time consuming and a drain on valuable resources, it often becomes a point of contention for those involved, whether referees or those recruiting.

Of the referees who responded to the survey, just over half say they avoided providing references – and 73 per cent said there were risks associated with providing a reference.

The research comes to similar conclusions as those of Dr John Sullivan, Professor of Management at San Francisco State University and author of several HR books.

The reference checking process is filled with holes, he says, from discrepancies in the depth of insight provided by referees, to the propensity for referees to give positive feedback to those leaving an organisation, to legal issues – such as the fact that most employees are offered the opportunity to resign rather than be fired – and problems that arise when references are not recorded or accompanied by a signature.

The study also found that the reference checking process is a threat to a company’s talent pipeline.

A lengthy reference-checking process can turn off prospective employees; it found that 41 per cent of the recruitment specialists surveyed report having lost candidates due to delays specifically during the reference checking period. And its 2016 survey reported that 42 per cent of surveyed candidates have walked away from a job for the same reason.

How can companies improve the reference checking process?

This research should serve as a wake-up call to businesses to either improve their reference checking process – or abandon it entirely, says Lee-Martin Seymour, co-founder and CEO of Xref. “Australian businesses are giving fraudulent candidates a free pass,” he says. “We know from [our] previous index survey that more than 70 per cent of candidates will take advantage of flaws in the process.”

From the risks of inaccurate and time-consuming referee references – to HR’s admission that they consider the practice a mere formality – and an ineffective one at that, the process places added pressure on HR during the recruitment process – and has few measurable benefits.

It’s a sentiment with which Seymour agrees: “Reference checking is still regarded as a burden on the HR team that provides little value during the recruiting period or beyond.”

He suggests organisations need to turn to technology-driven options, which allow referees the privacy, anonymity – and time – to provide honest and useful feedback for recruitment managers. And the fact that 51 per cent of referees say they prefer to provide references outside of day-to-day work hours, via mobile and tablet suggests that efficient online platforms geared to facilitate a more accurate feedback process, may indeed be the way forward.

Don’t miss out: Connect with HR’s brightest minds at Australia’s largest HR event – the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition − on 21-23 August in Sydney. Early bird registration closes 11 August 2017. Register now

 

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Sam Smith
Sam Smith
4 years ago

While I see some value in an online tool, certainly from a time saving and effort perspective for HR, I don’t think it will increase the content quality of the reference checks. I frequently come across people who don’t have the time to do a reference check and rush through it, so I am not sure that an online check would be any more successful in getting people to provide more detailed information. This is also assuming that everyone is tech savvy and can easily manipulate their way around an online portal. I also agree with Nick above, the human… Read more »

Jason
Jason
4 years ago

I find this article interesting. XREF’s business model is based on references being conducted via email response so there is a bit of a conflict here with the research! We are an internal recruitment team and therefore mostly conduct voice referencing. It’s critical to be able to explore responses in more detail as required. I’m not adverse to using template style for overseas based referee’s where the time zones don’t align, but our preference is voice based. If your organisation’s recruitment levels are such high volume that you simply don’t have the time, then this business model might work. It… Read more »

MK
MK
4 years ago

I agree wholeheartedly with all the comments here – an online reference checking tool may be useful, but it is not THE solution. Yes, we humans tend to embellish (and some do lie), but making it sound like it is an overwhelming issue and a “burden” is a complete exaggeration. Like “no one thinks that over the phone checks work”. Really? Absolutely no one? It seems that those of us commenting here were not consulted on the matter. I usually enjoy Bianca’s well-rounded articles, but this one has missed the spot. Let’s talk about bias. Of course Xref is going… Read more »

Geoff
Geoff
4 years ago

I think an American academic’s writing needs to be placed in the context of the USA being highly litigious and therefore reference processes are highly guarded there. Having worked there in a multi national entity employing 200,000 staff it was more often the practice that the Policy re reference checks was ameliorated by country practices, law and cultural effectiveness.
I fail to see the inherent effectiveness in an online model for such a crucial part of the recruitment practice.

Clara
Clara
4 years ago

Clara I am challenging my own thinking on reference checks. Personally I find them very useful and good (and willing)referees often have much to contribute to the decision making process. I think the final outcome depends too on the industry you are in and on the integrity of the referee. Are there not steep penalties for ‘glamorising’ someone just to get rid of them? I agree with the comment that probing questions and truly listening to the response is the way to go. Remembering always that reference checking is just one more small piece of the jigsaw puzzle and that… Read more »

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Most reference checks aren’t helpful – is this really a surprise?


A new survey shows what many have long suspected; no one, from recruiters, to referees, to employees think that over-the-phone reference checks work.

Checking references over the phone is fraught with risk and often provides little information from which a manager can make a hiring decision, according to research commissioned by ASX listed recruitment data company Xref.

This may not come as a surprise to many HR professionals; most already feel the process is outdated and puts an outsize onus on job-seekers to behave honestly.

In the 2017 Xref Recruitment Risk Index, the company surveyed those who do references as part of their job: HR professionals and recruiters.

What they found is that the bulk of recruitment managers – 39 per cent to be exact – believe that reference checking in its current format is a formality which serves little purpose.

17 per cent also named the reference checking process as the most frustrating element of the hiring process.

Reference checks: a burden on referees, a burden on recruiters – and, annoying for candidates

Not only is checking references over the phone time consuming and a drain on valuable resources, it often becomes a point of contention for those involved, whether referees or those recruiting.

Of the referees who responded to the survey, just over half say they avoided providing references – and 73 per cent said there were risks associated with providing a reference.

The research comes to similar conclusions as those of Dr John Sullivan, Professor of Management at San Francisco State University and author of several HR books.

The reference checking process is filled with holes, he says, from discrepancies in the depth of insight provided by referees, to the propensity for referees to give positive feedback to those leaving an organisation, to legal issues – such as the fact that most employees are offered the opportunity to resign rather than be fired – and problems that arise when references are not recorded or accompanied by a signature.

The study also found that the reference checking process is a threat to a company’s talent pipeline.

A lengthy reference-checking process can turn off prospective employees; it found that 41 per cent of the recruitment specialists surveyed report having lost candidates due to delays specifically during the reference checking period. And its 2016 survey reported that 42 per cent of surveyed candidates have walked away from a job for the same reason.

How can companies improve the reference checking process?

This research should serve as a wake-up call to businesses to either improve their reference checking process – or abandon it entirely, says Lee-Martin Seymour, co-founder and CEO of Xref. “Australian businesses are giving fraudulent candidates a free pass,” he says. “We know from [our] previous index survey that more than 70 per cent of candidates will take advantage of flaws in the process.”

From the risks of inaccurate and time-consuming referee references – to HR’s admission that they consider the practice a mere formality – and an ineffective one at that, the process places added pressure on HR during the recruitment process – and has few measurable benefits.

It’s a sentiment with which Seymour agrees: “Reference checking is still regarded as a burden on the HR team that provides little value during the recruiting period or beyond.”

He suggests organisations need to turn to technology-driven options, which allow referees the privacy, anonymity – and time – to provide honest and useful feedback for recruitment managers. And the fact that 51 per cent of referees say they prefer to provide references outside of day-to-day work hours, via mobile and tablet suggests that efficient online platforms geared to facilitate a more accurate feedback process, may indeed be the way forward.

Don’t miss out: Connect with HR’s brightest minds at Australia’s largest HR event – the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition − on 21-23 August in Sydney. Early bird registration closes 11 August 2017. Register now

 

guest
19 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sam Smith
Sam Smith
4 years ago

While I see some value in an online tool, certainly from a time saving and effort perspective for HR, I don’t think it will increase the content quality of the reference checks. I frequently come across people who don’t have the time to do a reference check and rush through it, so I am not sure that an online check would be any more successful in getting people to provide more detailed information. This is also assuming that everyone is tech savvy and can easily manipulate their way around an online portal. I also agree with Nick above, the human… Read more »

Jason
Jason
4 years ago

I find this article interesting. XREF’s business model is based on references being conducted via email response so there is a bit of a conflict here with the research! We are an internal recruitment team and therefore mostly conduct voice referencing. It’s critical to be able to explore responses in more detail as required. I’m not adverse to using template style for overseas based referee’s where the time zones don’t align, but our preference is voice based. If your organisation’s recruitment levels are such high volume that you simply don’t have the time, then this business model might work. It… Read more »

MK
MK
4 years ago

I agree wholeheartedly with all the comments here – an online reference checking tool may be useful, but it is not THE solution. Yes, we humans tend to embellish (and some do lie), but making it sound like it is an overwhelming issue and a “burden” is a complete exaggeration. Like “no one thinks that over the phone checks work”. Really? Absolutely no one? It seems that those of us commenting here were not consulted on the matter. I usually enjoy Bianca’s well-rounded articles, but this one has missed the spot. Let’s talk about bias. Of course Xref is going… Read more »

Geoff
Geoff
4 years ago

I think an American academic’s writing needs to be placed in the context of the USA being highly litigious and therefore reference processes are highly guarded there. Having worked there in a multi national entity employing 200,000 staff it was more often the practice that the Policy re reference checks was ameliorated by country practices, law and cultural effectiveness.
I fail to see the inherent effectiveness in an online model for such a crucial part of the recruitment practice.

Clara
Clara
4 years ago

Clara I am challenging my own thinking on reference checks. Personally I find them very useful and good (and willing)referees often have much to contribute to the decision making process. I think the final outcome depends too on the industry you are in and on the integrity of the referee. Are there not steep penalties for ‘glamorising’ someone just to get rid of them? I agree with the comment that probing questions and truly listening to the response is the way to go. Remembering always that reference checking is just one more small piece of the jigsaw puzzle and that… Read more »

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